Ohio State receives $2.5 million to improve nutrition and physical activity

Photo: CFAES

COLUMBUS, Ohio—The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) has received a $2.5 million award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fund a project that will focus on improving nutrition and physical activity, and will address health disparities related to poor nutrition, physical activity, and obesity.

The grant will fund the High Obesity Program (HOP), which, in Ohio, will be led by Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of CFAES. The five-year program will focus on rural communities, where 40% or more of adults have obesity, said Carol Smathers, a CFAES associate professor and field specialist in youth nutrition and wellness for OSU Extension.

“The issue is significant considering that obesity in Ohio affects 37.7% of adults, and 16 of Ohio’s 88 counties have adult obesity prevalence over 40%,” said Smathers, who is leading the project. “Also, diabetes prevalence in Ohio has increased to 12.4% of adults, and despite Ohio’s agricultural abundance, nearly 1 in 8 Ohioans are food insecure.

“Additionally, Ohio ranks as the 11th most inactive state, with approximately 25.8% of Ohioans physically inactive in 2022.”

The HOP will work to increase:

  • access to healthier food by promoting Ohio’s Good Food Here food service and nutrition guidelines and by coordinating uptake and expansion of Produce Perks fruit and vegetable voucher incentives.
  • access to physical activity by developing policies and plans that support safe and accessible opportunities for physical activity.
  • the number of early care and education programs that are impacted by farm to early care and education improvements by implementing policies and activities to support purchasing, serving, and teaching about local foods in early care and education settings.

The program will focus on Lawrence County, which, according to the County Health Rankings, ranks 81 out of 88 for health outcomes. The rankings consider life expectancy, quality of life, health behaviors, social and economic factors, and the physical environment. The county also has an adult obesity rate of 40.6%, an adult physical inactivity rate of 35%, an adult diabetes rate of 12%, and a food insecurity rate of 17%.

The program will also focus on Fayette County which, according to the County Health Rankings, ranks 74 out of 88 for health outcomes, has an adult obesity rate of 44.8%, an adult physical inactivity rate of 35%, an adult diabetes rate of 11%, and a food insecurity rate of 16%.

The mission of OSU Extension is to engage people to strengthen their lives and communities through research-based education and strategies,” Smathers said. “Extension educators are based in all 88 county offices across Ohio and are trusted professionals who respond to community needs by bringing knowledge and resources from Ohio State to community programs and partnerships. They apply evidence-based approaches across social ecological levels to address a broad range of economic, environmental, and health conditions.”

Smathers and her team like to think of HOP as the “Healthy Opportunities Program.”

“People from many walks of life can benefit from the healthier nutrition choices; increased, active transportation opportunities like walking and biking paths; and additional healthy options that will be expanded through the HOP project,” she said. “Extension professionals in Fayette and Lawrence counties are excited to join the HOP project team in working with community stakeholders to create sustainable access to healthier options.

“Both counties will leverage the grant funding with many assets and partnerships.”

CFAES is one of 16 HOP grant recipients, according to Terry O’Toole, PhD, MDiv, program development and evaluation branch chief in the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.  

“The CDC is excited to announce this new HOP funding to land-grant universities in communities with high rates of obesity,” O’Toole said. “This funding supports local programs to improve access to fresh, healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity with the goal of reducing chronic diseases.

“Obesity is a complex, common, and costly chronic disease associated with poorer mental health outcomes, stigmatization, and reduced quality of life. Obesity also puts people at risk for many other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and many cancers.”

A complete list of the CDC’s HOP recipients and additional information can be found on the HOP website.

Tracy Turner
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Carol Smathers